BMW has provided the clearest hint yet to the appearance and technical package of its upcoming MCV (MegaCity Vehicle) in a pair of official sketches revealing both two- and four-door hatchback versions of the advanced plug-in electric urban runabout.
Scheduled for launch in 2013, the new four seater has been conceived under a future orientated sustained mobility program at the German car maker’s R&D centre in Munich that takes the internal working title project-i – a name that alludes to the resurrection of the historic Isetta badgeplate, possibly reworked as i-setta.
The MCV, to be marketed under an as yet undisclosed BMW sub-brand, brings together a series of innovative technologies that provide it with simple construction, low weight and full zero emission capability in a car BMW says will carry a price premium over similarly sized small cars but which it is adamant will still prove affordable enough to see it hit an annual production target of 50,000 at its Leipzig factory in Germany by the middle of the decade.
"In the future, leadership in the premium segment will belong to whichever manufacturer builds its products in the most efficient and resource-friendly way – and offers its customers the most advanced and exciting solutions for eco-friendly personal mobility," according to BMW’s Martin Arlt.
The basis for the MCV is a lightweight carbon fibre monocoque dubbed LifeDrive. Described by BMW as being revolutionary both in construction and price, it is produced in a highly automated process developed in a co-operation between the German car maker and SGL Carbon that is claimed to dramatically reduce costs compared to existing carbon fibre structures.
“The big hurdle to carbon fibre production in the past has been cost. But with the new production processes we have developed, we are extremely confident we can produce the MCV with the sort of margins required to turn a profit – not a large profit, but a profit nevertheless,” a Munich official involved in project-i told Autocar.
BMW describes the LifeDrive structure as being as strong as steel but fifty per cent lighter than aluminium. It is also more rigid than existing steel monocoque structures and incorporates integral crash nodes design to dissipate energy during collision better than an aluminum space frame. Because it is created in one complete structure, overall production time is claimed to be significantly reduced over that of conventional small cars.
Along with the four seat versions of the MCV alluded to in BMW’s official sketches, work is also said progressing on a smaller two door version aimed at rival Mercedes-Benz’s Smart ForTwo and the Toyota iQ. BMW wouldn’t be drawn on the two seater but said the production process behind the MCV are flexible enough to allow alternative bodystyles.
Propelling the initial version of the MCV due in UK showrooms by late 2013 will be an all-electric driveline similar to that found in BMW’s 1-series Active-E revealed at the Detroit motor show earlier this year. It combines a single brushless electric motor, which BMW says develops over 100kW, with a single gear transmission to provide drive to the rear wheels.
Electricity for the motor will be supplied by a bank of lithium ion batteries of unspecified capacity from German supplier SB LiMotive mounted in the floor of the boot and underneath the rear-seat – a set-up that looks likely to give the MCV a distinctive rearward weight bias. Along with plug-in compatibility, the electric drive system will also feature a multi mode brake energy recuperation system allowing the driver to vary the degree of energy collected on a trailing throttle and/or under braking. At today's levels of development, the range is put at around 110 miles.
BMW has also confirmed it is developing a plug-in gasoline-hybrid version of the new car. It’s planned to use BMW’s new 1.5-litre three-cylinder gasoline engine and a much smaller electric motor in a so-called range extender process, in which the gasoline engine is used both for propulsion and as a means of topping up a battery to run the electric motor.Nothing’s official at this early stage, but BMW officials have told Autocar they are seeking an electric only range for the gasoline-electric hybrid of up to six miles.
Little is known about the MCV’s chassis, although pictures of the new car’s carbon fibre structure hint at aluminum intensive underpinnings with the possibility of it incorporating carbon fibre suspension towers, as recently unveiled by German component supplier, ZF, provided costs can be contained.
BMW won't be drawn on pricing of the MCV some three years out from launch. However, officials hint the business case for the new hatchback is based on sales of 50,000 per year at a base price of 20,000 Euros - a little less than double that of the entry level Ford Fiesta.